It is tempting to return to paradigms we are familiar with. It is simple to divide the world between good and evil; strong and weak, right and wrong. The tensions that hold the US and China hostage make one wonder whether we are returning to the bipolar world order that dominated much of the 20th century.
It is necessary to look beyond the Cold War framework and reassess our optics.
In principle, the US, both its government and the private sector, had little interest in economic development within the Soviet Union; that is, of course, a different case in the Sino-American relationship today.
The approach to containing the Soviet Union was accepted as a rule in US policy. However, dealing with China in the 21st century has generated divergent approaches.
A strong China that is economically prosperous for its own people and the world is beneficial for everyone. There should be no desire to destroy and threaten the livelihood of the Chinese people; the country’s unprecedented growth since Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) reforms is remarkable and deserves admiration.
However, the China that has emerged today is one that seeks to strengthen autocratic rule and normalize oppression not in the interests of people’s livelihoods, but for the longevity of the state. We can observe this motive in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rhetoric and within its foreign and domestic interests.
The CCP has often evoked the need to reverse the “Century of Humiliation” that China had to endure to justify the government’s increasingly assertive actions.
From the building of artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea to the clamping down on dissidents in Hong Kong, the CCP has sought to straighten anything that was once crooked in its past.
What emerges is a mentality of resentment. Seeking to revise the “status quo,” China’s revisionist agenda likens itself to Germany’s rejection of Versailles when the country defied its stipulations in the name of reversing humiliating reparations.
This passion of resentment tends to go beyond ending perceived unfair constraints. Appeasement will only embolden a revisionist state’s resolve and threaten the security of the world.
To quote former British prime minister Winston Churchill: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
It is therefore ever more important for the international community to combat China’s nefarious actions if the West wishes to protect the liberties it holds dear.
The question becomes not who will be eaten last, but how to tame the crocodile.
The CCP’s treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang should not be ignored either.
On Nov. 16, the New York Times released a report on leaked internal Chinese documents containing information on the mass detentions of Uighurs.
One documented President Xi Jinping (習近平) stating in a secret party speech that the counterterrorism campaign in the region “must be as harsh as them,” and “show absolutely no mercy.”
It is precisely this absence of mercy that has sent 1 million Muslims to re-education camps where they are, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP and renounce Islam.”
For a country that sees itself as the beacon of the 21st century, such actions reflect the brutality of regimes that the world gladly left behind in the 20th century.
In its attempt to Sinicize Xinjiang, the CCP has also found difficulty in dealing with Hong Kong and Taiwan. Both are ethnically Han territories that hold values contrary to the mainland.
The CCP’s agenda is not just of ethnic, but ideological homogenization. The Chinese state and the Chinese nation are at odds with each other. The CCP’s method of resolving this contradiction is to use brute force and — to reference Joseph Stalin — to re-engineer the soul.
Furthermore, Xi’s efforts to consolidate political power within the CCP have greatly damaged efforts made by his predecessors to liberalize Chinese politics.
The presidential term limit was instituted by Deng to prevent the rise of autocratic leaders such as former CCP chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東). Having been attacked, victimized and purged during the Cultural Revolution, Deng understood the dangers of a leader seated in power for too long.
Having now abolished term limits, Xi has sent a signal to his country and the world: He is here to stay.
China and its people are under the control of a leader with a disregard for reform and political liberalization; Xi’s vision for China is a nation that is obedient to the CCP.
We must then watch with trepidation as China makes strides using social credit scores and facial recognition technology to create a more safe and harmonious society.
Proponents of this method of societal conditioning claim that if the end is to create a society of “good” humans, then the means must not be feared. Only those who seek to do harm to society ought to fear anything.
However, the freedom of the individual — though not absolute in the framework of any organized state — becomes grossly violated when even the private moments you have and the face that you call your own become data points for a government program.
The dilemma here is that if Beijing’s program succeeds to bring the entirety of Chinese society in line, the world might begin to consider adopting such new approaches. It might well work, but there is nothing moral in its means.
Modern China emerged from the spark of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and the Communist Revolution of 1949 — the mainland has inherited the legacies of these two nation-changing events.
Today, China finds itself entering a new phase of revolution: Xi’s Revolution.
To highlight his concerning actions and questionable agenda is not to demonize him, but his leadership has pulled China back toward its darker autocratic past.
Confrontation is not the way to deal with China and Xi. The way forward is for the world to support the people of China who are fighting for democratization.
The pleas from the Hong Kong people for the US to protect the city are a sign that there are those within the Chinese state who no longer see Beijing’s authority as just.
We may never know the extent of the dissent that might exist in the mainland, but I am confident that Hong Kong is not an isolated incident. It is therefore greatly important for the freedom-loving countries of the world to stand beside those who are seeking to free China from the chains of the CCP.
According to the Declaration of the First National Congress of the Kuomintang [Chinese nationalist Party (KMT)] in 1924, the principle of democracy is to ensure popular sovereignty “for all the masses and is not to be possessed by the few. For it is the people of the Republic that will be allowed to enjoy the popular sovereignty, and the party [the Kuomintang] shall see to it that this power does not fall into the hands of those who are opposed to the Republic.”
Democracy is clearly no longer a foreign concept to China. Such rhetoric that democratization of the country is an attempt by foreign powers to destabilize the nation should be challenged; democracy is not a foreign concept anymore.
In his will, Dr Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) wrote that to secure the freedom and independence of China “we must wake up the masses of the country.”
He also wished that the 1924 declaration “be realized within the shortest possible time.”
China is far from the realization of Sun’s plan for China.
As he said: “At present, the revolution is not yet completed.”
I began this piece by discussing the bipolar paradigm that dominated the 20th century; a clash of two great nations vying for power over other nations and each other.
The emerging world order is one of two distinct camps — not of capitalism and communism or the free and unfree — but of justice and injustice.
Sun’s unfinished revolution aims to create a China that is just to its own people and to others in the world. China endured a century of humiliation, subjugated by foreigners, yet today the Chinese government has learned much from their former oppressors; for they now choose to oppress their own.
Nigel Li is a student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
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